NFL looks at whether quarterbacks deserve more protection on option plays

Robert Griffin III runs with the ball last season against the Chiefs (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III runs with the ball last season against the Chiefs (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The NFL is contemplating the question of whether anything more should be done to protect quarterbacks on option-style plays on which they don’t keep the ball to run with it. But that does not necessarily mean there will be any rule changes proposed this offseason to address the issue.

“There have been discussions on if the quarterback should get more protection on option plays,” one person familiar with the league’s deliberations on the matter said. “I’m not sure if you’ll see anything happen there.”

The issue is of particular interest to the Washington Redskins and their quarterback, Robert Griffin III. The team’s former coaching staff designed an offensive system for Griffin that included college-style option plays. Griffin’s playing style and exposure to potential injuries became regular topics of discussion for analysts.

Griffin has not played all 16 games in either of his two regular seasons with the Redskins, although he said he was healthy when the team’s former coach, Mike Shanahan, shut him down with three games remaining last season to avoid him getting hurt again. Griffin, coming off knee surgery last offseason, was credited with 86 rushing attempts in 13 games last season after running with the ball 120 times in 15 regular season games as a rookie in 2012.

It remains to be seen how Griffin will be used in the offense of the team’s new coach, Jay Gruden.

When NFL game officials made their annual visit to the Redskins’ training camp last summer in Richmond, the team made sure to ask how the officials would handle hits by defenders on quarterbacks after they get rid of the ball on option plays.

Referee Gene Steratore said in a presentation to the media during that training camp visit to the Redskins that officials were looking for the quarterback to make a “definitive show” that he no longer had the ball before they would consider calling a penalty on a defensive player for a hit. If a quarterback continued to carry out his fake and pretend that he had the ball, he would be subject to being hit legally, Steratore said.

“The moment that [the quarterback] releases that ball, he has to present to the defense as quickly as he possibly can that he’s no longer in the play,” Steratore said last summer.

It’s not clear what, if anything, the league would do to further protect quarterbacks on such plays. If the NFL’s competition committee does propose a rule change, it would be presented to the team owners late next month in Orlando at the annual league meeting. Any proposed rule change would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 teams to go into effect.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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